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Friday, September 14, 2018

The Predator

The Predator is a movie that will please no one.  Say you're a fan of the long-running Sci-Fi franchise, and are anxious to see how it's been updated.  Well, you will be disappointed to learn that this is a slapdash effort to cash in on the recognizable name.  But, say you're not a fan, and you just want to be entertained.  Again, prepare to be disappointed, as there is nothing inspired, thrilling or original here.  This could be an all-time low for the series, and given the mixed quality of some of the past sequels, that's saying something.


The movie is an assault on the senses - Overly loud, replacing CG blood and gore for genuine thrills, and downright incoherent in its editing, plotting and pacing.  The fact that this was co-written and directed by Shane Black, who co-starred in the original Predator back in 1987 and is usually much better than this, tells me that he has either taken a temporary leave of his senses and I can only hope he recovers soon, or that there was some major studio tampering behind the scenes, and what we're seeing is not his intended vision.  Given the film's highly publicized massive reshoots and multiple missed release dates, I'm leaning toward the second scenario.  This movie has all the markings of a project that got out of control, or perhaps never had a clear vision to start with.  The Predator is the kind of film that feels it doesn't have to tell a genuine narrative or give us character motivation.  All it has to do is crank up the gunfire and explosions really loud, splash a lot of blood around, and hope the audience doesn't catch on that nothing is happening.

The plot, which seems to be told in constant fast-forward, as if it's afraid if it slows down for one second it will lose our attention, tells the story of Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook).  He's got the action hero grit, but none of the personality or humor that you would expect.  He almost comes across as a placeholder character that screenwriters Black and Fred Dekker put in the early drafts until they could figure out a more interesting hero for their movie, but never got around to it.  Quinn is a military sniper who happens to witness the Predator alien (Brian A. Prince) crash land on Earth.  He manages to get his hands on some of the Predator's advanced technology and weapons, and sends it to his private P.O. Box address, but the package somehow winds up being shipped to the home of his estranged wife and autistic son, Rory (Jacob Temblay).  Little Rory mistakes the alien technology for being some sort of high-tech video game, and in a matter of minutes, he's cracked the technology behind the alien helmet and weapons.

Rory is one of those autistic kids you see in movies who can decipher alien code in a matter of seconds, hack computers like a pro, and basically serves as a walking plot device.  No offense to young Mr. Tremblay, who is a fine child actor, but the material he's been made to work with is desperate and dumb.  Quinn realizes that the Predator is tracking down his kid to get his equipment back, so he teams up with a ragtag group of soldiers who are all crazy misfits.  There's one with tourette's syndrome, one who's obsessed with the Bible, and one who can't stop cracking jokes when he's nervous or scared.  There.  You now know everything the movie tells us about these people.  He also teams up with a female scientist (Olivia Munn), who is fascinated in life from outer space, and wants to study the Predator.  She is introduced as a key character early on, and then spends the majority of the movie running alongside our hero, and not really contributing much.  But hey, at least she doesn't have to be a love interest, so points for originality, I guess.

Watching The Predator, I got the sense that nobody knew what movie they were making, or even what it was trying to be.  Most of the film follows the rigid rules of a Sci-Fi thriller, albeit one that fails on just about every level.  The monster is not scary or interesting, the action is cut so tight and edited so rapidly (either that, or shot in total darkness), we often have a hard time telling what is being done and to whom, and all the major characters more or less talk and act the same.  But then, the movie will suddenly veer into some very bizarre humor that borders on parody.  This too doesn't work, once on the basis that the movie is never funny, and on the basis that it feels completely out of place here.  Shane Black is famous for his ability to mix violent action with clever and funny dialogue, but here, he falls completely flat on his face.  It's like he wanted to make a self-aware Predator movie, but lost his nerve, and threw in a lot of uninspired action.  Therefore, we get a lot of goofy ideas, such as little Rory going out on Halloween wearing the Predator mask and accidentally blowing up a neighbor's house, mixed in with your standard B-Movie action thriller elements.

This is such a shockingly inept movie, you're almost surprised to see seasoned professionals were behind it.  This is especially true of the plotting and writing, which frequently falls back on forced exposition dialogue to move the story along.  This is one of those movies where a character will pick up an alien artifact they have never seen before in their lives, glance it over for a few seconds, and then somehow be able to tell us the whole history behind it.  This is also one of those movies that introduces a character, makes a big deal about them for most of its running time, and then dispatches them in such a quick and haphazard matter that you'll miss it if you even blink.  There is just this overall sense of laziness to the filmmaking on display.  Instead of revitalizing the franchise, this might bury it even deeper into obscurity.

Naturally, The Predator has a final scene that hints at a much bigger sequel to come, but like a lot of films that fall back on this technique, it doesn't do enough to build the interest of the audience after the movie we've just witnessed.  Instead of focusing on what's to come, why not just put all your effort on making a good, solid movie that fans can enjoy and excite with the possibility of more to come?  This movie promises us so much, but gives us little in return.

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